Rejected by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2017.

To stimulate data-sharing, Bierer et al (*) propose a new type of authorship, “data author,” to credit persons who collect data but do not analyze it as part of a scientific study.

This interesting proposal could be expanded into a more general revision of the authorship concept, without conferring a narrow specialness to data authorship that could equally be claimed for “statistical authorship,” “drafting authorship,” “study-conceiving authorship,” “benchwork authorship,” and so on.

Instead, reviving decades-old proposals for fractional authorship (1) could better achieve the same laudable aims, especially if open-source “blockchain” software technology (2)(3)(4) were used to conveniently, publicly, quantitatively, and securely track fractional authorship credits in perpetuity.

Authorship would thereby have some features of alternate currency (e.g. BitCoin): senior authors could use future authorship credits to “purchase” data from owners according to the data’s value. They could also assign roles from a controlled vocabulary (data author, statistical author, etc.) to some or all authors. Over time, norms for pricing and authorship roles would coalesce in the scientific community.

Overall, a blockchain fractional-authorship system would be more flexible and extensible than a special case made for data authors.

(*) Bierer BE, Crosas M, Pierce HH. Data authorship as an incentive to data sharing. N Engl J Med 2017; 376: 1684-1687.   PubMed 28402238

(1) Shaw BT. The Use of Quality and Quantity of Publication as Criteria for Evaluating Scientists. Washington, DC: Agriculture Research Service, USDA Miscellaneous Publication No. 1041, 1967. Available at:

(2) Nakamoto S. Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. October 31, 2008.

(3) Tapscott D, Tapscott A. Blockchain revolution : how the technology behind bitcoin is changing money, business, and the world. New York: Portfolio / Penguin, 2016

(4) Sotos JG, Houlding D. Blockchains for data sharing in clinical research: trust in a trustless world. (Blockchain Application Note #1.) March 2017.

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Published on January 29, 2018